PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — April is deemed Child Abuse Prevention month and local officials said the amount of calls to child abuse hotlines have decreased nearly 50 percent in the past three weeks.
This would typically seem like good news, however, child abuse experts said the decline in calls, since Illinois’ stay-at-home mandate went into effect, doesn’t necessarily mean abuse isn’t happening. They said it just might not be seen by those who’d normally report it.
Dr. Channing Petrak, medical resource director at the Pediatric Resource Center, said about 4-5 children die every day due to child abuse or neglect. She said the stay-at-home order has restricted children’s access to many adult confidants.
“Teachers and daycare workers and all of those people who typically are hotline callers and are the social safety nets are not seeing the children anymore,” Dr. Petrak said.
She said this is concerning because it could mean there’s abuse going unnoticed.
“So we are very worried at this time about children who are in those situations,” Dr. Petrak said. “And for the parents who have to care for them that are really stressed at this time and not sure what to do.”
She said the center has been trying to spread information about things parents can do with their children together at home to release stress; as well as what social services are available during this time.
Also in honor of Child Abuse Prevention month, Crittenton Centers has been trying to spread awareness virtually.
Jeff Gress, CEO of the organization, said they usually host events to bring attention to the cause such as brunches and pinwheel gardens. He said now they’ve had to switch to online movements such as encouraging the community to wear blue and share photos on Facebook to show support.
Gress said preventing abuse should extend to more than just one month.
“April is set aside awareness month as preventing child abuse and neglect,” Gress said. “I just think realistically we need to take our marching orders every day to do what we can to prevent a child from being abuse.”
Dr. Petrak said in the meantime families should try to engage in more personal bonding time.
She also said family members and friends who can’t be present but can check-in with each other via video chats should try to be more aware of what they see and hear.
“It is the time to sort of step up and say something if you see something because what we don’t want our children to continue to be hurt,” Dr. Petrak said.
Officials said Peoria County had 1,153 pending abuse and neglect cases at the end of 2019.